Last week, I set off to Spain, hoping to complete the Camino Francés, one of the many routes collectively known as the Camino de Santiago; literally, the Way of St James. This was a project started in 2016, when six guys who’d played rugby together in Prague set off from St Jean Pied de Port in the French Basque Country to commemorate the life of the rugby club’s first chairman, Terry Anderson who had recently died. Three intended to reach Santiago over five annual trips of about a week, and three wanted to walk the first stage with us.

Covid threw a spanner in the works, delaying our fifth trip to 2023. By now, we are two, with vascular problems knocking Laurent out of the walk in Year 2.

Stu (I know, two Stus, who would have thought it?) and I met up on Friday evening in Santiago de Compostela. On Saturday, we were to take a bus to O Cebreiro, a Galician mountain village where we’d finished the fourth stage back in 2019. First things first, two friends who hadn’t seen each other in four years needed to catch up, so we checked in and set off to find a suitable spot for a feast.

Fuzzy-headed, we made the one daily bus to O Cebreiro which was scheduled to take three hours to reach the mountains. The route follows the Camino, so was full of pilgrims. Most were heading to Sarria, the most popular start point for the Camino. (In order to qualify for the “Compostela”, the certificate from the cathedral authorities, a pilgrim needs to have walked at least 100km, and Sarria is a little beyond that.)

We reached Sarria through rain of varying intensity. Shortly before disembarking, a Spanish pilgrim barked a pile of puke to the floor in front of his seat, a fact that become more odorously apparent as we few remaining sat at the bus station. The driver advised us to sit further forward as he set off to find a mop, muttering darkly.

Only a little delayed by puke-boy, we arrived at O Cebreiro which was wet and cold and sitting in its own cloud at 1,300 metres (4,250 feet). Three and a bit hours by bus from Santiago. We hoped to get back in five days, walking 154.5 km (96 miles).

O Cebreiro is an iconic pilgrim stop. A small village that doubtless would have quietly expired without the Camino, which was, at least in part, revived by a 20th century priest of the parish, Don Elias Valiña Sampedro. There are a couple of shops selling a mix of tat and essential camino kit, and Stu and I picked up a bit of both, most importantly our staffs. As the rain picked up, we took shelter in a bar. What could possibly go wrong?

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